Charities Bill [HL]
Lord Bassam of Brighton (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
This has been a useful short debate on the amendment. In the end, I very much come down on the side of the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, who has picked his way through where we, the Government, are on this issue and has accurately summarised our position.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, makes the point about legislation sometimes being rather arid in its description. Behind the way in which we have set out our approach to this in the Bill there is a general encouragement—perhaps more than that—to see the Charity Commission as being more facilitative and innovative, in so far as the charitable sector is concerned.
In some respects the Charity Commission is a rather unique regulator; we do want to see it as an encouraging regulator. We want to see its characteristics develop so new ideas for solving old problems in the charitable world are apparent. Where we perhaps part company with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is that we take the view that the Bill already allows, enables and equips the commission to be an innovative regulator. It is for that reason that we do not think that the amendment is required.
The commission has five objectives. They are not particularly in an order of priority, but for the purposes of debate on this amendment the most important one is the fourth: the charitable resources objective. The wording of this objective, which is carried over from the 1993 Act, is designed to promote the effective use of charitable resources. It is our expectation that the commission will adopt an imaginative approach towards that. There are already signs that that is the case.
In support of its objectives, the Bill gives the commission six general functions, of which I single out in this context the function of encouraging and facilitating the better administration of charities. Again, I interpret that as being an encouragement to be more imaginative in approach.
I am clear that the objective of promoting the effective use of charitable resources, and the function of encouraging and facilitating the better administration of charities, together give the commission full scope and opportunity to encourage development and innovation in the charitable sector. In fact, the commission has already signed up to working in that way. It is part of the commission's new mission statement, published in March, that it will work by "encouraging innovation and effectiveness".
Clearly the commission is confident that it can legitimately work by encouraging that innovation and effectiveness, whether or not the Bill goes through in its current form, and without needing to be given a specific function in terms of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. I entirely agree with the commission in that approach.
It follows on from that that, while I certainly can see merit in what the noble Lord said, we feel that the way in which the legislation is drafted and the way in which the commission has already responded to that, the amendment is not necessary.